After nearly 50 years of supplying San Luis Obispo, SLO Fresh Market will close its doors in mid-February.
“I’m still whirling,” current market owner Gwen Schmidt said on Friday. “My customers are heartbroken. The store has been a part of the neighborhood for a very long time.”
The closure comes after Laurel Lane Investments LLC, which is owned by local real estate investor Patrick Aurignac, purchased the shopping center in 1200 block of Laurel Lane where the market is located.
Prior to the purchase, businesses in the center had been paying the same rent since the late 1980s, Aurignac said, as well as having the landlord pay for all utilities. Aurignac said the market will be closing because Schmidt could no longer afford the space after he raised rent from 30 cents per square foot to $1 per square foot (80 percent of the current market value).
“I wish everyone could see we are not trying to extort those people (in the center),” Aurignac said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people in there are happy with the rent the way it is — they are happy to pay it.”
Aurignac said for now all other existing businesses in the center will remain. He would be happy to see another grocery store go into the soon-to-be-vacant spot, Aurignac said.
“If another grocery store wants to go back into that space, great,” he said. “We welcome a grocery store in there.”
Schmidt said she hopes Aurignac does bring in a new grocery store because it is necessary in the neighborhood.
“If they do, my customers will be taken care of,” Schmidt said. “But you know, it won’t be me — it won’t be me taking care of them.”
SLO Fresh Market employs 13 people, one of whom is assistant manager Bailey Kataoka, who has worked for Schmidt since moving to the area in 2008. Like Schmidt’s other employees, Kataoka is unsure of what she will do once the market officially closes in February.
“I don’t know if I can afford to stay in San Luis Obispo, so I might be getting out of the area, looking for a new job,” Kataoka said.
Schmidt is also uncertain what she will do in the future.
“I may be looking for another job somewhere else, maybe still in the same field,” she said. “I don’t know if I will be able to find another place to open something else up. I’m just not sure that I want to approach that again.”